Lately, I’ve been distressed by how little Americans care about conflicts overseas. But on one hand, it’s understandable — after more than a decade of US military action abroad, our citizens have made it clear that they want domestic affairs front and center in Congress. The strife in Syria briefly held the spotlight in national news, but reports were soon dropped in lieu of the US government shutdown and the bungled Affordable Care Act rollout. While the pseudo-pundits whipped the media circus into a frenzy over a broken website, protests began in Kiev, Ukraine, and quickly reached a boiling point. Now, the fates of 54 million people hang in the balance, and American and European politics with Russia may turn tenuous moving forward.
The following is an account of the facts according to dozens of US and international news sources offering video coverage from the ground, as well as hundreds of eyewitness accounts posted on social media from those in Kiev on both sides.
The protests began with a European-siding minority’s displeasure over President Viktor Yanukovych abandoning talks with the EU. The talks centered around far-reaching trade agreements that would strengthen ties to Europe — discussions which had been progressing for some time, yet were suddenly abandoned. Many observers surmised that this reversal was the result of pressure from Moscow in the form of economic threats, such as shutting off Ukraine’s gas supply (as had been done in both 2006 and 2009).
On December 1, despite a recently-passed law forbidding public protests, a massive rally took place in Kiev. Experts estimate that between 100,000 and 1 million people took part. The government and protesters strongly disagree over what happened next. According to Ukrainian Interior Minister Vitaliy Zakharchenko, “violent provocateurs” assaulted police, who responded in force. Protesters, however, blame police, who they allege reacted violently to an unarmed gathering. Whatever the reality, both sides suffered casualties.
The situation escalated. Protests swelled. Reports surfaced that police forces (known as Berkut) were dragging wounded protesters out of hospitals and allegedly subjecting them to torture before killing them. This news hit the international community hard. The reports were confirmed when Yuriy Verbytsky, a local activist, was discovered dead in a local suburb with his body indeed exhibiting evidence of torture. More lifeless bodies have also been found showing such evidence. At one point, the situation became so dangerous for activists that they began setting up field hospitals with the help of volunteer medical professionals and clandestine supply runners that were forced to evade checkpoints. Whether Ukrainian or American, whether in agreement with the protesters or the police, we are all human and should care about this degree of lawless action resulting in lives being terminated.
Throughout February 18 and 19, police forces attacked the protesters’ main camp in Independence Square, called the Maidan, leaving dozens dead and hundreds wounded. The clashes prompted the international community to pressure Yanukovych to find a peaceful solution to the conflict. He did so by agreeing to an early election. However, yet-unknown events transpired that forced Yanukovych to flee office on February 22, after which the parliament officially impeached him. He has since resurfaced in Rostov-on-don, Russia.
It may appear that the situation is improving, as the people were able to oust a president many deemed outrageously corrupt. Thankfully, with his disappearance, the police joined protesters and the violence largely subsided, with the exception of a few isolated incidents. However, peace remains a distant prospect.
Given the turmoil that has already transpired, this observer can’t help but wonder what new challenges the people of Ukraine as a whole will face in order to restore order. Again, some people may think that it is an extraneous effort to interject ourselves into international politics—but is an important one, as we are dealing with a situation involving a nation with veto power, who can shape future US policies abroad.